The president of Chad, Idriss Deby, has understood for a while now that Western powers are willing to overlook domestic human rights abuses and repression so long as his military continues to combat extremist groups in the Sahel. This week, France demonstrated that its loyalty to Deby, who has been in office since 1990, runs even deeper, and that it is willing to lend military support of its own to keep him in power.
On Sunday, French Mirage jets carried out strikes against rebels who had crossed into Chadian territory from their base in southern Libya. The strikes, involving warplanes deployed as part of the French-led counterterrorism mission in the region, Operation Barkhane, continued through Wednesday.
The rebels are from a group known as the Union of Forces of Resistance, or UFR, which is headed by Timane Erdimi, a nephew of Deby. As we reported last year, Chad’s government has been on high alert against the threat of Libya-based rebels since the Military Command Council for the Salvation of the Republic, or CCMSR, a splinter group of the UFR, staged multiple deadly incursions beginning in August.
France has come to Deby’s aid before, including when rebels threatened the capital, N’Djamena, in 2006 and 2008. But as Le Monde points out, this past support has taken the form of intelligence and logistics assistance rather than firepower. Writing in La Croix, Laurent Larcher notes that France has provided few details on the latest operations. French officials have not confirmed whom exactly the strikes are targeting or how many people have been killed, nor have they made public the request for assistance from Deby’s government, as they did when intervening in Mali in 2013.
In any event, the strikes should be seen as more of a stopgap measure than an effort to eliminate the threat posed by the rebels altogether. Southern Libya remains highly unstable and is therefore a natural base for Chadian insurgents. But perhaps more importantly, as analysts told us last year, antipathy toward Deby won’t go away provided the political environment remains repressive and the country’s economic woes continue.